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I am a 1967 graduate of The Citadel (Distinguished Military Student, member of the Economic Honor Society, Dean's List), a 1975 graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (M.Div., magna cum laude, member of the Phi Alpha Chi academic honor society); I attended the Free University of Amsterdam and completed my History of Dogma there and then received a full scholarship from the Dutch government to transfer to the sister school in Kampen, Holland. In 1979 I graduated from the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Churches of Holland (Drs. with honors in Ethics). My New Testament minor was completed with Herman Ridderbos. I am also a 2001 Ph.D. graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (Systematic Theology) in Philly with a dissertation on the "unio mystica" in the theology of Dr. Herman Bavinck (1854-1921). I am a former tank commander, and instructor in the US Army Armor School at Ft. Knox, KY. I have been happily married to my childhood sweetheart and best friend, Sally, for 43 years. We have 6 children, one of whom is with the Lord, and 14 wonderful grandchildren.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Postmodernism and the Modern Church (IV)

Why Are Postmoderns So Exercised?
Postmodernism has a bone to pick with the Enlightenment and its certainty about knowledge. What postmodernists find objectionable about Enlightenment thinking is its ideology vis-à-vis certainty. Douglas Groothuis has aptly pointed out that “The Enlightenment vision of unleashing reason’s powers in pursuit of universal knowledge and technical mastery of the world has failed.”[1] I concur that the demise of Enlightenment ideology is needed. I welcome it. Paramount in Enlightenment ideology is the thesis that man no longer needs God to make sense of the universe and the world in which he lives. This thesis is known by many as “the modern mind.” A life and worldview is constructed leaving God out of the picture and relying on reason to create (scientific) certainty.
The upshot of Enlightenment ideology is that “we are living in a culture in which we are bombarded every day by values and concept that come out of humanistic philosophy.”[2] In other words, rather than God being the center, in Enlightenment thinking man is the center. Enlightenment dictates gave rise to a secular “metanarrative” that ostensibly explained the universe.[3] Eric Voegelin has aptly delineated many of the negative concepts and philosophies that emerged from Enlightenment ideology such as the French Revolution, revolutionary existence, the apocalypse of man, anarchy, inverted dialectics, and the genesis of Gnostic Socialism.[4] But it was not and it still is not the monopolized territory of secular postmodern philosophy to criticize and critique Enlightenment ideology.
No, Christians have written about the deleterious notions of the Enlightenment for quite some time. There is, in truth, no lack of scholarly criticism of Enlightenment thinking from the Christian perspective.[5] David Wells is to the point when he writes, “The gatekeepers to our culture have not allowed Christian ideas past the threshold.”[6] Therefore, until recently, American culture has meandered on its merry way refusing to listen to the pointed criticisms by Christians about Enlightenment thought.
One example can suffice here. When I was studying theology at the Free University of Amsterdam, the late Dr. Hans Rookmaaker taught art history there. He loved American students and he would host informal discussions on the history of art in the cafeteria (Dutch: mensa) of the Vrije Universiteit (Free University of Amsterdam). I spent many profitable hours listening to this learned Christian man discourse on art and artists. He wrote a book entitled Modern Art and the Death of a Culture, which is still available today and I highly recommend it.[7]
Rookmaaker was a meticulous scholar, but his work was all but totally ignored by the Dutch and American cultures. Though critical of Enlightenment notions, Rookmaaker was ignored by the “cultured despisers” of the Christian faith. The point here is simply this: If the Enlightenment philosophers loathed Christianity, what is to prevent the postmodern philosophers from doing the same? I will argue that in fact the postmodern counterparts dislike God as much as devotees of the Enlightenment did and do. This is why it is all the more ironic that so-called Christians are so enamored of the ideology of postmodernism, which contains virtually non-biblical metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics.
If the culture ignored Rookmaaker I have to wonder what McLaren, Bell, Lamott (Anne Lamott is a thorough-going secularist and it is a legitimate question as to whether she is truly saved), Miller, Pagitt, or others for that matter, have to offer in the field of art that Rookmaaker didn’t offer. Why would the culture listen to us parroting Rookmaaker now if it wouldn’t listen to him earlier? What cataclysmic changes have occurred to coerce either the Enlightenment or postmodern mindsets to welcome our observations about the bankruptcy of both movements? Where is Eduard Mönch when you need his scream?
But there is a much more important issue here, which is the long-forgotten question of the true church of Jesus Christ. Modern evangelicalism embraces so many aberrant theologies that you really do need to go back and ask the questions about what Scripture says concerning the nature and essence of the Church of Jesus Christ. We should not and must not gratuitously assume that every congregation/group/tribe/crowd/gaggle that calls itself Christian actually is.We’ll delve more into this in the next installment, but I leave you with this noteworthy quotation from William Cunningham: “The ekklēsía (Church), both etymologically and really, is just the assembly or congregation of the klētoí (called), those who are called out of the world. Christ calls men to come out of the world, to believe in Him, to submit to His authority, and to unite together in an organized society of which He is the head, and which is to be governed exclusively by His laws.”[8]
[1] Douglas Groothuis, Truth Decay, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2000), p. 26.
[2] R.C. Sproul, Lifeviews, (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1986), p. 64.
[3] See the the definition of metanarrative given below that goes like this: “A ‘metanarrative’ is simply a grand story that becomes a final criterion for the legitimacy of all other stories or one into which all other narratives must fit.”
[4] Eric Voegelin, From Enlightenment to Revolution, (John Hallowell, [ed.]), (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 19823).
[5] The Dutch Christian, Groen van Prinsterer formed a political party that was later headed by Abraham Kuyper called the Antirevolutionary Party. The name hearkens to van Prinsterer’s distaste and dislike for Enlightenment/French Revolution ideology. Revolution is the child of the Enlightenment.
[6] David Wells, Above All Earthly Pow’rs, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), p. 63.
[7] H.R. Rookmaaker, Modern Art and the Death of a Culture, (Wheaton: Crossway, 1994).
[8] William Cunningham, Historical Theology, Vol. I, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 19693), p. 14.


Blogger SolaMeanie said...


In my study of postmodernism, I noted the link with "art" early on and it fascinates me. How something with origins in art eventually spilled over into the philosophical realm.

So many of us (including me at one time) tend to view art in the abstract. We see a picture and think it pretty. We look at a sculpture and admire the skill of the sculptor. Almost utilitarian..and that's not the best word to communicate what I mean. I doodle on a piece of paper and am not intending to make any huge social statements..just having fun.

Many artists on the other hand are generally trying to make a statement. We look at a still life portrait of a bowl of fruit and seldom walk away from it pondering the merits of anthropomorphisms. Yet Edvard Munch's "Scream" was meant to communicate something. When we go down through the litany of great artists, I wonder what the breakdown of them would be as to how many were making a moral, philosophical or political statement through their art, versus how many just wanted to paint a lovely picture or sculpt a creative statue.

8:21 AM  

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